The house pictured is where Georges Simenon, the great Belgian writer of detective fiction was born. It’s 34 Leopold St. It’s in some shit little town in Belgium. The housing is fairly typical of big cities all over Europe, and you can find similarities with buildings even in North America and in the former European empires in Southeast Asia. A murder has to happen somewhere, right? One place is as good as another.
While it is by no means necessary to have a floor plan, which some mysteries do, it’s interesting just to learn by looking. It’s what a proper detective would do.
How do the residents get into the private apartments above? These homes were all built separately, yet the norm appears to be an unobtrusive door at sidewalk level on the left side of the building. The business entrance is much more prominent. In my hometown of Sarnia, Ontario, in Canada, there are similar buildings uptown, admittedly only three or four stories tall. There are definitely stylistic differences, but in art form follows function.
But what they do have in common is a business on the ground, and private apartments up above, with separate doors for each.
Any reader of mystery novels can see that the layout, how people came and went from a murder scene, whether it was the victim, or the killer, witnesses, it all has a bearing on the outcome of the event, the case, and the book. How many people live there and who else has access?
Looking at this picture, it’s impossible to say if there is an alley behind it or not. For the purposes of fiction, let’s say there is. Where did it lead to? Can patrons of the shops on the first floor use the alley? One would think not. Delivery men, possibly…the reader sees where I am going. We can learn much by the layout of the place and yet all we really know is that someone was murdered there. As a writer, we have to start someplace, and in a murder mystery, to begin at the beginning is to present the reader with a nice, luscious, tasty victim, i.e. a corpse.
What prevents people from wandering in off the street? How do people get to the second level, which also appears to be a place of business?
Presumably the private apartments, which start on the third floor in this building, have some kind of locked door on a landing at the top of the third flight of stairs. There is the need for some kind of research, if only to visualize the simple movements, and to learn what is possible and what is not. Just as an afterthought, the houses may have had fire escapes, over the roofs. I haven’t decided yet. I’ll throw it in if I need it!
I don’t know for sure, but it is possible, or possibly there might be an external staircase on the back of the building.
Watching House Hunters International a few years ago, they did a show where they looked at apartments in Paris. It was the dream of a lifetime for the people involved. Imagine: to live in Paris.
It was amazing to learn that a half a million U.S. dollars inside the city limits of Paris, would buy four or five very small and oddly-shaped rooms, stacked up vertically inside a narrow building on a street with no parking for miles and cobbles right up to the doorsills. The bathroom was little bigger than a broom closet, and the stairs were more like the kind you would find on a schooner from the 1840s. They were narrow and steep. The stove was eleven inches wide…you get the idea.
This puts the houses in this picture into their proper perspective. Assuming one private owner, there is some prosperity in the picture. My present novel takes place in 1929, the year of the Great Depression, which affected France a bit later than some other countries.
Other than that, I don’t want to give too much away.